"Rainmaker" S1 / E11
- A- Community Grade
One of the perils of heavy serialization is that when events from early in the season come back to bite the characters, it can feel like they’ve stopped off from another series entirely. It’s been so long since Lights was doing little favors for Brennan here and there that I worried the return of these favors to haunt him would feel inorganic, as though the show were bringing back some of Lights’ earlier struggles solely to make things worse for him and kill time before the finale. There’s very much a sense of the show stalling just a bit, where the momentum it picked up around the Morales fight has been slowed down and slowed down until the show feels a little more rambling and slice-of-life-y. That wasn’t a bad pace for the show to have in its early going, but it’s been a bit disconcerting to feel the show slowing again heading into the climax. I’ve liked all of these episodes—a lot, actually—but the pacing of the season is incredibly wonky.
Ultimately, though, “Rainmaker” finds a way to tie all of its plots together via a closing twist that should have been obvious but still managed to knock me off my feet. It’s an elegant way to pull an A- and B-story that seem to have nothing to do with each other together and make both of them feel part of the same whole. Lights Out has sometimes struggled to do that this season. The show will often incorporate plots from the many different stories it’s trying to tell, but they won’t always feel like they go together, as though the show is really five or six different series at once, awkwardly smashed together. There’s no such concern about that in “Rainmaker,” which might be the show’s best episode yet.
The “Rainmaker” of the title is a former champ named Jerry, played by the always wonderful David Morse. Jerry’s time came after Pops’ time as a fighter, but before Lights’ time, and, thus, he knows both of these guys without really being all that close to them. (Lights defeated Jerry back in the day, but it seems clear Jerry was already on his way out.) Now, Jerry lives in a rundown apartment, trying to make a living off of nostalgia for his former greatness, unable to remember just about anything, his mind letting facts and plans drop away unless he writes them in the little notepad he keeps attached to himself at all times. It’s a very sad portrayal of who Lights could become someday, and, sure enough, Margaret takes Lights to the place she knows he’ll see him because she wants to give him a little warning of whom he could turn into if he doesn’t bring his fighting career to a close.
Sure enough, Lights invites Jerry to come to the gym to help out a little, just to help the guy out a little. It’s not like there’s a federation of former boxers that can get Jerry what he needs to survive. He was once a millionaire, but now he lives in squalor, forced to keep what thoughts he can on the pages of a little notebook. The portrayal of the way Jerry’s fallen on hard times is poignant, so poignant that it doesn’t signal the ending that’s coming, even as it’s completely obvious in retrospect. Morse plays Jerry with such a sense of childlike innocence that the show successfully distracts us from what it’s setting Jerry up to do, even as it tells us every step of the way that Jerry is going to be more than just a cautionary plot device. (Hell, Theresa essentially outlines the end of the episode at its midpoint.) It’s very smart, very canny writing, and while I’m sure some will write it off as cheap, it struck me as incredibly well done.
Because while all of this is going on, in a seemingly unrelated storyline, Lights is finally seeing the hammer come down for that delivery he made to the birthday party earlier this season. It turns out the delivery was a bribe, meant to buy off a county councilman, and there’s no way to tie it to Brennan, short of Lights saying the money came from Brennan, which is something he can’t do if he values his life and the lives of his family members. If we’re being perfectly honest, I thought this plot had been utterly dropped, shuffled so far to the back burner that the writers got rid of it as something that just didn’t work. And, yeah, when it comes up at first here, it kind of feels like the writers reaching for plotlines they can add into the mix to buy time on the way to the fight. But as the episode goes on and the noose tightens ever tighter around Lights, it becomes clear that this is just really good plot development, things that seemed insignificant after long enough coming back to destroy everything Lights has worked for.
What’s great about this is the way that everyone in Lights’ family works not to get him to do the right thing but to keep him out of jail and/or safe. Pops says no matter what happens, Lights can’t squeal on someone like Brennan. He’s safer in jail than he is as a witness against Brennan (as we soon find out). Theresa comes up with the elaborate story about how Lights was just taking over for Jerry at the fateful birthday party and covers for him with the girls. Heck, even Lights beats up the councilman when he discovers that he’s wearing a wire. One of the things I like about this show is that it constantly reinforces how family takes care of its own, even when that’s not strictly a great idea. The episode hammers this home in an early scene set at the Fourth of July, with the Leary family gathered around a picnic table, mocking Ava’s choice of English boyfriend (Rafe!) and just generally behaving like a family that doesn’t know storm clouds are swirling. It’s a nice scene. It’s a better one once you’ve seen the end.
Because Lights has a plan, and the episode has built up to him executing it. The councilman leaves his hotel room to get a soda, police protection in tow. But once he gets to the soda machine, a man in a jacket rushes in, beating up the police officer, then the councilman. We immediately cut from this to Lights arriving at home, presumably after dealing out this beatdown. (Remember: Brennan gave Lights the address of the hotel where the witness was staying earlier.) But he tells Theresa that he was out on some sort of pub crawl with Johnny, getting his face out there to show he’s not worried. And then it all starts to lock into place: The councilman isn’t talking, Lights is giving Jerry money, and Jerry pulls the address out of his shirt pocket, gobbling it down. It’s such a perfect ending to the whole thing, both unexpected and completely predictable once you know it’s coming. In short, it’s the very best kind of twist, and it suggests that Lights Out is finally getting a handle on how to tie all of its many storylines together. Granted, this comes with only two episodes to go, but the end of the season isn’t a bad time to put out your best episode yet.
- Death Row turns up on TV to talk about how there are so many stories swirling around Lights that some of them MUST be true, right? It’s a nice little scene, and it’s indicative of the reasons I’m almost starting to hope Death Row wins the rematch.
- Even if the show hadn’t tied Jerry in to the rest of the story, he still would have been a great reminder of the show’s central idea that boxing wears people out, uses them up, and leaves them nowhere to turn but family and (if you’re lucky) friends. See also: Ed Romeo, the boxing reporter Mike.
- I liked Margaret giving Lights the business about burdening his 14-year-old daughter with the information of his dementia. Granted, she found it on her own, but it still was kind of a lousy thing to do.